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Wed, 13 Nov 2019

Predicting the future of coral reefs

Heart Reef
Heart Reef, Great Barrier Reef. Image by CoffeewithMilk

A James Cook University scientist is set to examine whether coral reefs will be able to adapt to the pace of climate change as conditions for their survival deteriorate.

Dr Gergely Torda has won an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Early Career Researcher Award(DECRA), funded by the Federal Government.  He will receive $416,000 over three years.

Dr Torda said the 2016 and 2017 back-to-back bleaching events killed approximately 50% of shallow water corals and transformed the composition of coral assemblages on two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef.

He said it’s thought that by the middle of this century, most reefs around the world will experience bleaching conditions every year due to climate change.

“My aim is to predict the future of coral reefs within a rapidly changing climate, by integrating state-of-the-art population genomics with evolutionary and ecological modelling,” said Dr Torda.

The project will assess whether corals will be able to keep up with the pace of climate change via genetic adaptation and non-genetic acclimatisation.

“At the moment there are gaps in data and methodology that hinder our ability to reliably model the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of this critical and vulnerable ecosystem – and this limits our ability to manage it into the future,” said Dr Torda.

He said the project will use an innovative eco-evolutionary framework.

“It’s increasingly recognised that ecological changes - mass mortality for instance - affect adaptive and non-adaptive evolution almost in real time. If the reefs of the Great Barrier Reef recover from the offspring of survivors of the recent bleaching events, there is hope that the new coral populations will be more tolerant to heat stress in the future.”

Dr Torda said the grant will also support the work of a PhD and a Masters student.


Dr Gergely (Greg) Torda (Townsville)